Buying and owning a home in Northern VA is a big investment, and the reason to make sure the home you buy or currently own is in good condition. Older homes come with different challenges than new construction and one such challenge is the foundation.
Don’t get me wrong, newer homes can have foundation problems, but older homes have different engineering and some of the construction may not have stood the test of time for a variety of reasons. This shouldn’t discourage and home buyers in Northern VA who want an older home, it’s just something to be aware of and ready for should the home of your dreams need foundation rehabilitation.
There are signs, as well as a many causes for a foundation problem. Some of them are as simple as wear and tear while others could be environmental. Each has its own level of urgency, but all are important to watch for, especially if you are purchasing an older home.
How Old is Old?
When it comes to real estate there is no standard to define an old home. In the United States we may consider a 100 year old home to be really old, but in parts of Europe, that’s not old at all! In my experience with Northern VA home buyers, most consider any home built before the 70’s to be old. Homes of this age may include older materials such as lead paint or asbestos tile which can be hazardous. Also with the passage of time, normal wear and tear can weaken a foundation particularly with homes with water penetration that’s not addressed.
Frequent Signs of Foundation Problems
Foundation wear does not always mean there is an existing foundation problem. Signs of foundation wear could lead to future problems, and should be inspected by a professional.
Concrete Cracks – This could be as simple as aging concrete or an indication of a more serious problem. Small hairline cracks, are unlikely foundation issues, but cracks wider than ¼ inch could be signs of a true problem. If cracks do appear, be sure to fill them to keep out any pests or water intrusion, and continue to monitor for further growth.
Supports and Floors – Other signs of foundation problems can be most obvious when support beams, load-bearing walls and floors start having issues. Uneven floors or load bearing walls that are cracking and crumbling are are read flag.
Windows and Doors – Foundation problems can bee seen around doors and windows of a home. This will appear around frames, particularly at the top and can be a sign of a foundation issue. This can cause doors and windows not to close properly and should be investigated further.
Frequent Causes of Foundation Problems
Often times, signs of foundation problems are not being caused by a weak foundation. While the cause can be the foundation aging, many times, the source of the mischief comes from some other source outside the house.
Ground Swelling – Yes, the ground actually swells with rain and/or snow. Porous soil can expand and contract depending on how saturated or dry it becomes. Much of the soil in NOVA, particularly Fairfax county, is Marine Clay which does swell upon wetting and contract with drying. Here is an interactive soil map for Fairfax County.
The ground around and beneath a home can also swells by settling, which is when the foundation sinks into the ground as it becomes more porous. This is usually the case just after a home is build, and some settling is normal with any new home.
Tree Roots – Tree root systems can pose a threat to the foundation of a home, particularly trees that have grown for 50 to 100 years. Some types of trees have wide-ranging root systems, meaning that tree that was planted when the home was build could threaten the foundation 50 years latter. These problems can be solved, but they can be costly, especially with old, well-established trees.
What To Do
If you suspect a home you want purchase in Northern VA may have a foundation problems, it is time to hire an inspector. A home inspection contingency is a must, to have the option to cancel the contract if there is a real problem. A ASHI certified home inspector can help identify a possible problem that may need further inspection by a specialist. If you are a current home owner, and concerned about your foundation or structure that have appeared or grown worse, you too could benefit by hiring a specialist.
Structural Engineer – This specialist can inspect a home and determine if the foundation needs rehabilitation. They are trained in examining the building and its entire structure along with the environment and the materials around the home. Keep in mind sometimes it may require cutting out holes in drywall to inspect the entire structure of a home.
You might be able to factor the cost of repairs into your negotiations for the sale price of the home, or ask the sellers to do the work themselves.
Should You Buy an Older Home?
Older homes have character that can only come with time and years of updates and changes by previous owners. They can have beautiful architecture, solid construction, and countless memories, both past and ones yet to come. If you are careful, get a professional home inspection and maintain good future care of your home, even an older house with a foundation problem can become your dream home!
938 Millwood Rd, Great Falls, VA — Built in 1959
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